Skip to main content

The Curious Case of The 3:20 to Widnes

Rhuddlan Train Station Circa 1954

The Curious Case of The 3:20 to Widnes

The Chairman, Richard, welcomed the members to the meeting and explained that, unfortunately, there had been a last-minute change for the evening`s talk as the speaker was not available. So. at the last minute, our treasurer Chris Grier had to bring forward an article he was preparing for January for which we are most grateful Chris.

The story starts in Liverpool on the 15th of December 1892, a Liverpool that was a bustling city with papers advertising theatres, sales, and bonded warehouses that had released six and a half thousand gallons of alcohol causing the city to be awash with booze for the Christmas season. We now move to Lime Street Station, the oldest station in use in the world. The 3.20 to Widnes is due to leave the station and on the train are 4 members of staff travelling to Edgehill station.

The train departs and not far along the journey there is a sandstone tunnel, just before the train enters the tunnel the railway staff see a flash from one of the carriages. The train is stopped at the end of the tunnel and the staff walk back along the track to find out what had happened. In the carriage, they find the body of a man who insists he wants to go to Wavertree but unfortunately, he dies before he reaches the hospital. Who is this man?

We now go back 39 years to 1857 and Elias Hughes was born and brought up in Colwyn Bay. He became engrossed in Welsh culture including choirs, both singing and conducting, poetry, furniture dealing, and harps He became very much an entrepreneur with many interests including journalism and reporting.

At this time the Tithe wars were happening in Denbighshire when parishioners paid one-tenth of their annual income to the Established Church. As Wales was predominantly Non-conformist this caused much resentment among the farmers as a result of which tensions were very high, particularly in Flintshire and Denbighshire and troops were deployed to shield the tithe collectors.

This led to enforced sales of land and property and violent protests in Llangwm, Mochre, and LLanefydd. During the uprising at Mochre in June 1887 Elias Hughes was reporting and was badly hurt with severe head injuries which resulted in him being unable to attend the hearing in Westminster where the new MP Tom Ellis had taken the problem he was interviewed at home as a result.

After these injuries, his luck seemed to desert him and he received no compensation due to the serious head injuries, his personality changed with mood swings and depression.

He went back to work in late December 1887 taking up his choral work once again including eisteddfod and visited Clwyd Street Chapel in Rhyl, During his life his wife was most supportive and was most accomplished in her own right particularly in women's rights and literary work, In 1892 Colwyn Bay was open for business and Elias had a boarding house and a furniture business and was rate collecting for the council which kept him busy.

At this time, however, Colwyn Bay was having money problems due to the subway which was needed to enable people to get to the beach under the railway line. Elias Hughes had his rate collector's wage cut and he was put on part-time money and after a local board meeting, he was given his notice which was deferred for 12 months.

So all was not going well for Elias. Back to the train in the tunnel. As you will have realised the body was that of Elias and he was buried in Llandrillo yn Rhos before the inquest was completed. At the inquest, the guard stated that he had found matches and sporting gunpowder in a black bag and a verdict of “death due to explosion and strychnine poisoning?” was given.

Other factors considered were that he took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed. His wife soldiered on and paid his debts off but she died at the young age of 33 years leaving a son Thomas Arthur Hughes who lived with his grandmother and became a solicitor. Thomas died in 1943 having been a Mayor of Colwyn Bay and a “Man of the Community” much like his father.